Poly Balls

August 22, 2014

USATT National Volunteer Coordinator

One of the best things USATT has done in recent times is create the position of National Volunteer Coordinator. Here's the info page where you can apply for the position. Even if you aren't selected for the position you might get selected for another volunteer position, based on your skills and interests. So now's the time to apply - or would you rather just sit around watching TV? I hope not!

Here's a short description of the position:

"This position's primary responsibilities are to plan and organize volunteer programs associated with USA Table Tennis's board of directors, committees, and staff efforts. Individuals who are not selected for the primary position, but bring value, will be referred to the selected individual as possible assistant coordinators."

I hope USATT will feature this prominently on their front page and in the magazine. When the notice first came out I think it was on the front page for a day or so, but now it's mostly buried in the news items. If you page down a bit there's a block about this on the USATT home page, but few will see it unless they are looking for it. (Also, it just says, "Opening Position: National Volunteer Coordinator." How about something catchier, like "Would You Like to be USATT's Volunteer Coordinator? USATT Needs Your Help!") Until the deadline comes up on Oct. 15, I'd like to see this featured all over the place, so we get as many applicants as possible, both for this position and for others who are willing to volunteer on other things.

I'm a member of Science Fiction Writers of America, which is nearly all volunteer run. They run regional conventions with over 1000 participants and national ones with 6000. (For comparison, USATT's U.S. Open and Nationals generally get 700 or so players, though they break 1000 sometimes. Regional tournaments get about 200 players.) Who runs these conventions? Volunteers. Who does the membership stuff? Volunteers. Who does their web pages? Volunteers. Who does their promotional work? Volunteers. And it all gets done very smoothly. The irony is their politics is even nastier than USATT's at its worst - these are people who are good with words and not afraid to use them. But they keep the politics (in particular policy making) and the volunteer stuff completely separate. (I'm also a former member of the U.S. Tennis Association, and they also make similar use of volunteers.) 

A key thing to understand is the difference between "fairness issues" and "progressive issues." Both are important, but need to be handled differently. It is the fairness issues that tend to get political, and so we don't want the same people handling fairness issues and progressive issues. (There can be people who work on both, but they too need to keep these types of issues separate.) Progressive issues can also be political, but far less so as they are actually doing things that are presumably positive for the sport.  

Fairness issues include such things as working out policy for choosing teams; choosing the site for U.S. Opens and Nationals; disciplinary proceedings; and other issue where it's important to be fair, and so you don't want just one person making the decision. Fairness issues should usually be decided by committee. In most cases, once the committee makes a recommendation, the USATT Board of Directors should go with it, unless there's something really wrong with the recommendation. More importantly, the USATT CEO and other such leaders should stay out of these issues when possible, going with the committee decisions whenever possible so they can focus on progressive issues.

Progressive issues are those that develop and promote the sport and/or organization. You do not want a committee doing these. Committees are great for working out the fairest way of doing something, but for progressive issues you need someone to take charge. So unless you have a committee chair who is able and willing to take charge and get things done, and committee members willing to act as only advisors while the chair actually does everything (unless they are asked to do specific tasks), committees don't get much done. For progressive issues, you need to put someone in charge and assign him a specific area where he has authority - and then let him go to work. If he messes up, he can always be reined in afterwards or replaced. Sometimes the person in charge works alone, sometimes he has others working for him - but he needs to be in charge and given the freedom to work on his area of authority and expertise.

In USATT, we have lots of committees. In recent times they were renamed "Advisory Committees," to make clear they only advise. So who does the actual progressive work? Neither USATT nor SFWA have the staff to do these things. So we need to bring in volunteers.

The National Volunteer Coordinator wouldn't be doing any volunteer work except for one thing - he'd be in charge of the other volunteers. Here's an example of how I see it working, which would be similar to SFWA.

Recently Lily Zhang won the bronze medal at the Youth Olympic Games. USATT doesn't really have someone to write and send out press releases, follow up with phone calls and more press releases, and in general work with the press to maximize publicity. What it could do is have several press volunteers, one perhaps for each of the following:

  • U.S. Open and Nationals
  • Elite players
  • Paralympics
  • Juniors
  • Seniors
  • Coaches
  • Leagues
  • Tournaments

Then, whenever something happens in one of these realms, that volunteer would spring into action. There'd almost be a friendly competition between the press volunteers to see who can get the most press! There would be some overlap, but the volunteers can either work out who works on which ones, or both send out press releases. The more the better!

Similarly we'd want volunteers who take care of other aspects for USATT. For another example, take coaching. As I've blogged about repeatedly in recent years, the single best thing that's happened to table tennis in the U.S. in recent times is the rise of full-time training centers, from less than ten in 2006 to about 75 now. USATT has never gotten involved in this, so every time a top coach wants to create a training center or a junior program, he has to start from scratch, perhaps questioning current ones to find out what needs to be done. There's a lot of reinventing the wheel. That's a major brake on the creation of these training centers - and anyone thinking we're anywhere close to approaching our limit with 75 isn't paying attention. With a little streamlining, we could end up with 500 to 1000 around the country.

But we need a volunteer who is in charge of the creation of a manual for creating training centers, who would recruit others to do most of the work, with payment for those workers in the form of commissions when it sells on Amazon, or perhaps a small direct payment from USATT. (I can assist with part about getting published on Amazon - I'm pretty experienced.) We'd have another in charge of recruiting coaches who wish to create training centers or junior programs, who'd put notices out everywhere - USATT magazine and web page, emails to coaches and top players, etc., promoting the idea that they can make a very nice living as a table tennis coach. We'd have another who would coordinate coaches to train these coaches, something I've toyed with doing, perhaps with a Hodges Coaching Academy. (I've already written the manual for much of this, the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which I'd let USATT use at cost if they ever make these things a priority. The manual explains the professional side of table tennis coaching, i.e. how to make a living at it by getting students, keeping them, getting places to play, maximizing income, etc. )

USATT already does this sort of thing in some ways, such as the National Tournament Coordinators, where eight volunteers do the tournament sanctioning, reporting to National Coordinator Larry Thoman, but mostly working independently. This is the model we could use for other aspects of USATT volunteerism. In this case the "fairness issues" were worked out in advance by the USATT Tournament Advisory Committee, which set up the rules and guidelines for sanctioning, but then the progressive work - the sanctioning part - is done by specific volunteers.

Not Recognizing a "Prominent" Player

Yesterday I went to the club to do some private coaching. As I went to my table in the back I glanced over at one of the front tables and noticed we had some new girl dressed in a USA uniform. I didn't look closely as I was in a hurry to get to my table. (I was early, but so was my student, who was following me.) During the lesson, from across the room I saw the girl play some more, and while she looked somehow familiar, I didn't recognize her - the club is pretty big, so it was a good distance. Then Coach Jack Huang walked by, and I asked her who it was. He broke up laughing, and finally told me. It was Crystal Wang! You know, the girl from our club since age 7 (she's now a very tall 12), who'd I'd worked with countless times (though Jack is her primary coach), and coached many times in tournaments! The youngest in U.S. history to make the U.S. Team and win Under 22 at the Nationals! The highest rated of her age in history at about 2400! In fairness to me, I was watching from across the room; she'd been training in China for seven weeks and I'd been told wouldn't be back for another week; and she'd both grown another inch or two and had a new hair style.

New Poly Balls: How Do We Bounce?

Here's the article from Butterfly Mag.

Belarus Open: Non-Celluloid Balls, No Service Let Rule

Here's the article. The tournament, held Aug. 21-14, is the first international competition to use the non-celluloid ball. But they are also experimenting with not having a let on net serves. This means if the serve nicks the net, the point continues.

Lily Zhang Wins Bronze at Youth Olympic Games

Here's the USATT article on her win this past weekend. Here's USATT Board Chair Mike Babuin's congratulatory note to her.

Table Tennis Players Crib Sheet

Here's the article, which is about how fast the sport is and how you need to rely not just on your eyes but on your ears as well. One confusing statement - it says, "Sound helps the player because it reach[es] the brain 300 hundreds of a second faster than just using your eyes." This doesn't make sense, since light travels about 186,000 miles per second (i.e. sight), while sound at sea level travels about 760 miles per hour, or about 0.21 miles per second (i.e. hearing), meaning light travels almost 900,000 times faster than sound.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Ninety-one down, nine to go!

  • Day 10: Krisztina Tόth Advises Players & the ITTF to Collaborate to Create Stars

Table Tennis Brand Name Artwork

Here's the latest artwork from Mike Mezyan - or should we call this wordwork?

Ice Bucket Challenges

Here are three more prominent ones from a pair of Germans, a Swede, and a Frenchman. I was going to post more from "regular" players, but there are just too many. Note that Dmitrij challenged Jan-Ove Waldner - can't wait to see that!

Twelve Weird and Wonderful Ping Pong Videos

Here they are! I've linked to a few of these in the past. My favorites are #5 ("PongQuest") and #7 ("Ping Pong" – Armin Van Buuren).

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July 22, 2014

Two-Colored Balls

On July 17 I linked to an article on the Chinese trying out two-toned balls. I wrote, "This is a great idea - I've blogged in the past how silly it is that in such a spin-oriented sport, we have a ball where you can't see the spin, and suggested we use a soccer-colored one or something like that." 

I don't know why they are calling them two-toned balls when the more accurate term is two-colored balls. So I'm going to call them two-colored balls. Personally, I'd like to see them try out soccer-colored balls (like the ones in this picture), or have a contest for "best design," with the soccer-colored balls an inspiration for designers. 

However, there are pluses and minuses to using such a ball. Overall, I like the idea of both players and spectators better able to see spin in this spin-oriented Olympic sport. But there are downsides as well, the largest being how this would affect choppers. The only way to find out for sure how a two-color ball would affect the game is to try it out, as the Chinese are doing. I look forward to seeing the results. Here are what I see as the advantages and disadvantages of a two-color ball.

Advantages:

  1. Better appreciation of our sport by spectators. Few understand just how much spin is on the ball, and so have little appreciation for what's actually happening. 
  2. More interesting for spectators. Colorful balls are more interesting than bland one-color ones. Kids will especially like more colorful balls. 
  3. More rallies. Players will be more consistent in returning serves and getting into rallies.
  4. Better rallies. Players will make fewer errors in rallies from misreading spin. 

Disadvantages:

  1. May hurt choppers. This, to me, is the biggest possible problem, and why I'd like to see some testing first to see just how much it would affect them. High-level choppers do rely on mixing up the spin to force mistakes, and two-colored balls might make that more difficult. However, it's hard to say how much, both because by the time the attacker reads the spin (especially no-spins) it might be too late, and because the chopper will also be able to better read the attacker's spin. But overall it's likely to hurt choppers at least some. 
  2. Tradition. You shouldn't make changes in the sport unless there's a very good reason. 
  3. Developed skills no longer needed. Established players may find some of their hard-earned skills in reading spin no longer needed so much. 
  4. New skills needed. Players would have to develop the new skill of reading spin directly from watching the ball, something that can only be done to a small extent with the current one-color ball. I'm guessing this will have less effect than some may believe as by the time you read the spin directly off an incoming ball it's likely too late to adjust most strokes, except perhaps passive returns.

Comparison of Plastic ("Poly") and Celluloid Balls

Here's a report from the ITTF that compared plastic to celluloid balls. It's dated April 2013, based on testing from November, 2012. Keep in mind that the plastic balls since that time have improved, but this shows how much testing was done, and the info that ITTF had when it made the decision.

North American Cup on TV

One World Sports will broadcast the recent North American Championships next week. Here's the schedule, including the listing of providers.

July 2014 National Collegiate Table Tennis Association Newsletter

Here it is.

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency, counting downwards from 100. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Sixty down, 40 to go!

  • Day 41: Attention to Detail, Organisational Skills Produce First Class Result
  • Day 42: The Reliable Committee Man for Over Half a Century, Chérif Hajem

American Table Tennis Players of the Classic Age

Volume IV of this series is now out, by Dean Johnson and Tim Boggan. This one features Bernie Bukiet, Bobby Gusikoff, Erwin Klein, and Leah & Tybie Thall. Here are reviews of Volumes I-III. They are all on sale at Amazon: Vol. I, Vol. II, Vol. III, and Vol. IV.

Matt Winkler: Six-Time Arizona Champion

Here's the article.

International News

As usual, there are lots of great international articles at TableTennista and at the ITTF page. Tabletennista tends to cover the big names more, while ITTF has more regional news.

Unbelievable Point in Swedish League

Here's the video (32 sec). The attacker/chopper on the left is Fabian Åkerström. I believe the lobber/attacker on the right is Mattias Översjö.

Table Tennis: A Way of Life

Here's a nice table tennis highlights video (6:37), set to music. 

Table Tennis in Space

Here's a cartoon on table tennis apparently played in a spaceship in zero G. With no gravity, you need topspin to pull the ball down!!!

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June 18, 2014

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday was Day Two of Week One of our ten weeks of camps at MDTTC. As usual, it's always surprising watching beginners on day one who seem to have no concept or potential to do a proper shot suddenly start making the shots properly on day two. There are four in the camp who are basically beginners. 

Sometimes it's a coach can get caught off guard by what he doesn't know about the players. After a day and a half of coaching, I asked three of the beginners (ages 6, 8, and 10) if they thought they were ready to play some games. All three looked rather confused. After some questioning, I realized the obvious - they didn't know how to play a game. None knew how you score a point or how many points a game was up to. So I stopped everything and went over the rules with them. I made a game out of it, seeing who could correctly answer (or guess) the answer to basic rules. When I first asked how many points a game was up to, they argued whether games were to ten or twenty. One guessed that each player served six times in a row, and the other two immediately agreed with this. So I made a mental note to myself to remember to go over the basic rules sooner next time. 

Ratings Quirks

Here are two interesting quirks of the USATT rating system. 

1) Can You Predict the Odds in a Match from their Ratings?

The USATT rating system is set up so that players exchange points based on the difference in their ratings, and whether it's an upset or not. (Here's an explanation of the system.) For example, if the two players are rated 100 points apart (technically from 88 to 112 points), if the higher-rated player wins, he gains 4 points, the lower player loses 4. If it's an upset, then the lower-rated player gets 20 points while the higher-rated player loses 20. Based on this, the higher-rated player should win 20 times for every four times he loses, or 5/6 of the time. There have been discussions of this on online forums for years.

On the one hand, it's fairly obvious that there are more upsets among lower-rated players than higher ones. For example, a player rated 1100 is more likely to upset a player rated 1200 than a player rated 2100 is going to upset a player rated 2200. This is because the ratings are far more volatile at the lower levels - players are far more likely to make sudden dramatic improvements at those levels than at the advanced levels. So there are far more upsets at the lower levels than at the higher levels.

On the other hand, the ratings should spread out to match this probability, so at all levels the probability of a hundred-point upset should be the same at all levels. But this seems to contradict the previous statement.

So who's right? Surprisingly, both are basically right. The part left out is that many of these under-rated players at the lower levels get adjusted upward. The USATT system goes through four steps in processing the ratings. The first step only finds players who need to be adjusted, and then adjusts them upwards. So mathematically, the system is making predictions for these players with their adjusted ratings. So when an 1100 player beats a 1200 player, but is adjusted up to 1500, as far as the rating system is concerned, a 1500 player just beat a 1200 player. In other words, it doesn't see an 1100 player beating a 1200 player; it sees a 1500 player beating a 1200 player. 

Among 1100 players who beat 1200 players but are not adjusted, I would guess that the percentage of their wins against 1200 players would be about the same as a 2100 player (who is not adjusted upwards) against a 2200 player. And so if you look only at the adjusted ratings of players (for those who were adjusted) and use the USATT rating system to predict matches, it'll be pretty consistent at all levels, i.e. the chances of an 1100 player beating a 1200 player would be about the same as a 2100 player beating a 2200 player - about 1/6.

2) Can a Player Gain Ratings Points by Losing a Match?

Yes, but it's extremely rare. The only case I know of where this happened was at the Southern Open in 1996, though I'm sure there are others. Xu Huazhang, a former Chinese national team member who had recently moved to the U.S., had been going to school and so had a rating of only 2572. He went undefeated in the tournament, winning both the Open and Elite Singles. He was adjusted upwards, and came out 2777. But when we looked at the results, we realized a strange thing. The USATT adjustment factor - a mathematical formula which used to be public but is no longer listed in the explanation of the system - normally adjusts a player upward partially based on their best win and worst loss. But since Xu had no losses, a different formula is used. We discovered that if Xu had lost one of his two matches against Jim Butler, he would have achieved a rating over 2800! So by winning both matches, he lost at least 23 rating points. When I discovered this I reported it to the USATT Ratings Committee, but nothing was done. And since the adjustment formula is no longer online, I can't show why this happened.

Facebook Friends

Are you on Facebook? Are you an avid table tennis person? Then send me a friend request! Here's my Facebook page. One advantage - as soon as I finish a blog each morning (Mon-Fri), I post a note on Facebook about it, including a content listing.

Why the New Poly Balls Can Be Heavier

Here's the ITTF Technical Leaflet on this - see the parts in green, which are new. The key part is right at the end, where it says that instead of the standard range for the weight of the ball from 2.67 to 2.77 grams, with the new balls it can be from 2.65 to 2.82 grams until Jan. 1, 2016. I don't have any accurate way of measuring the Nittaku Poly ball I blogged about on Monday, but I'm guessing it pushed the upper limit here, while most balls were, if anything, probably on the lower range. (Anyone have figures on that?)

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Twenty-six down, 74 to go!

  • Day 75: Until the 1950s, Table Tennis Was Considered a “Jewish Sport”

Youngest Player at the Japan Open

Here's a picture of Japan's Harimoto Tomokazu, showing all the media attention he's getting.

Top Ten Shots at the Korean Open

Here's the video (5:16). 

Ping Pong Beer

Here it is - straight from Belgium!

World Ping-Pong Federation

Here's the cartoon!

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March 7, 2014

Table Tennis Tales & Techniques - On Sale! - and Other Books

I've spent much of the last few weeks putting Table Tennis Tales & Techniques into a new format. You can now buy it print on demand at Amazon.com, with the price lowered from its previous $17.95 retail to only $11.61. There are some minor wording changes, and the format is slightly larger (9"x6" instead of the previous 8.5"x5.5"). While the book originally came out in 2009, the articles - both stories about table tennis, essays on technique, coaching tips, and a lot of table tennis humor - are timeless. Or so says me, the author! Of course, while there, don't forget to buy Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers or my other books on sale at Amazon. (Alas, due to the way the book was original set up, it would be incredibly time-consuming to put the Tales & Technique book in an ebook format, so that's not planned for now.)

Note that I expect to have an updated version of Table Tennis: Steps to Success - tentatively retitled as Table Tennis Fundamentals - by the end of this year. The key thing is finding time to get new photos for all the techniques in the book - there are a LOT. I've tentatively settled on who will demo most of the shots, and have a nice camera I can borrow. Then I go through it and update everything. There's a lot of updating to do.

I'm also planning to use those photos for an update to Instructor's Guide to Table Tennis, a manual I wrote for USATT many years ago that covers how to coach. This is different from the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook, which covers the professional side to coaching - how to recruit and keep students, set up coaching programs, maximize, income, and other issues needed to make a living as a professional coach. (But of great value even for part-time coaches or promoters who wish to set up junior development programs or other types of classes or coaching programs.) I've learned a lot in the years since I originally wrote this, so there'll be a lot of updating.

I'm currently working on two books. Soon I'll finalize Table Tennis Tips, which is a compilation of all my Tips of the Week into one book, with the Tips organized in logical fashion, with a few notes added. All of these books will eventually go on sale at Amazon in print on demand and probably ebook format.

I'm also working on a rewrite of Campaign 2100: Rise of the Moderates, a science fiction novel I wrote a few years ago. (Yep, that's what I do in my free time!) I have a publisher interested, but they requested a rather extensive rewrite of certain aspects of the book. The book features table tennis a number of times - one of the main protagonists is a professional table tennis player who defaults out of a major tournament to run the third-party campaign for president of earth in the year 2100. The publisher said the best scene in the book was the scene where the player mentioned above does an exhibition for the Chinese leadership in an attempt to get their political support, with an alien ambassador he's been coaching as his playing partner. What happens during this exhibition I can't say without giving away spoilers, but suffice to say things don't go well for either of our table tennis players when the world government intervenes.   

I have another novel already out, Sorcerers in Space, which you can buy at Amazon or a few dollars cheaper in various formats straight from the publisher, Class Act Books. That main protagonist there is also a table tennis player - a 13-year-old Neil [Armstrong, though last name is never actually given], a sorcerer's apprentice, who has to give up his table tennis dreams to save the world in the U.S.-Soviet space race, with sorcerers instead of astronauts. I also have a collection of my best published short stories, Pings & Pongs: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of Larry Hodges.

USA Team Trials

They start this morning. You can follow all the action here. I couldn't go, but last night after seeing the draws I emailed some tactical tips to some of the MDTTC players.

Crystal Watch

What do I tell kids about ratings? They aren't important, but they are fun when they go up. They are also used in rankings, and while winning events is more important, achieving a high ranking is a goal to achieve. And Crystal Wang keeps getting these high rankings!

After her latest tournament, where she won Under 2400 and made the semifinals of Open Singles at the MDTTC Open (beating players rated 2370, 2370, 2344, 2323, 2304, and 2257, while losing to players rated 2344 and 2565), she's up to 2395, good for #1 in U.S. girls in Under 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17. (She turned 12 one week ago.) She'd also be #1 boys under 13 and second in boys under 14 (after California's phenom Kanak Jha, who won't be 14 until June 19).  Surprisingly, the 2395 isn't Crystal's highest rating - she was 2402 after the North American Teams in November, as an 11-year-old.

What's the highest rating ever for a 12-year-old? That would be 2468, by Kanak a year ago, with Crystal's 2395 (or 2402?) easily the second highest. These two have been breaking every rating record for kids since they were nine years old. Kanak set the record for the highest rated 9-, 10-, 11-, 12-, and 13-year-old in U.S. history, with Crystal breaking those records for 9-, 10-, and 11-year-olds. Crystal's top goals this year are winning major events and making U.S. teams, but it will be fun to watch her "pursuit" of that 2468 over the next year. I happen to know that Crystal doesn't care one twit about ratings, and is pretty much oblivious to them. She has higher goals, which is why she trains about a zillion hours a day, a zillion days a week.

She's at the U.S. Team Trials right now, probably the youngest trying out. She made the quarterfinals of Women's Singles at the Nationals and won Under 22 Women over Ariel Hsing, who would go on to win her third Women's Singles title. But apparently due to school conflicts, Ariel isn't trying out for the U.S. team this year. The top seed is Lily Zhang at 2522. Number two is Judy Hugh at 2397. If they use the ratings that came out last night for seeding then Crystal would be seeded #3, two points behind Judy.

Table Tennis Master

Here are three new coaching articles from Table Tennis Master.

Coaching a Beginning Kid

Want to see how it's done? Here's a video (3:05) of a coach, who seems to know what he's doing, working with a new kid, about 9-10 years old. There's a wide variety of skill when players first start out. Some pick it up quickly, seem to have a feel for the ball and for hitting it properly. Others have almost no control over the ball or their own bodies. The latter are tricky to work with because they are unable to really do what you want them to do. But with patience, they pick it up. The kid in the video is doing pretty well if it's his first session. He probably needs to put his right foot slightly back (which some kids are resistant to do, while others way overdo it), turn his shoulders more (which becomes more natural with the right foot slightly back), and raise his left arm for balance. (The coach comes over at one point to stress the shoulder turn, and the kid does better after that.)

More Against Poly Balls

Here's an article by Australian player Greg Letts where he discusses and comes out against the upcoming change to poly plastic balls.

Coach Wanted in Northern California (USA)

Here's the help wanted note they put up:

Established Club in Northern California is accepting applications for a full time coach / sparring partner. Compensation is 24-36K depending on level and experience. Your title will be developmental coach and you will report to the head coach who will oversee the curriculum and assign your duties. You must be a team player who can work together with the other coaching staff and be passionate about developing young players. You should play at a high enough level to stretch our current juniors who are 2400 +. 

The ideal candidate plays at a level of 2500 or higher, has coaching experience, and speaks English, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

You must be able to document your playing and coaching history. Match video is helpful.

For more information send your resume to norcalttclub@yahoo.com.

2-2 Footwork Drill

Here's a video (1:44) of an advanced player doing the 2-2 drill - two forehands from the forehand side, two forehands from the backhand side. I haven't really done this drill much with my students - I may add it to my repertoire.

The Coaching Scam Continues

On Feb. 27 I wrote about a coaching scam that's taking advantage of U.S. coaches. The idiot doing this is back, once again sending a mass email to U.S. table tennis coaches. I received mine yesterday at 6:53PM. Soon after other coaches also reported getting it. The emails have several variations - strangely, he doesn't send out the exact email to everyone. Here's the one I got, typos and all:

Hi there,
How are you doing today? My wife and I are looking to hire a qualified Coach that can train our Son and his name is David and he is 14yrs old,What we want for him is a just a general brush-up with his trainaing and in any areas he might have difficulties with.If you are available and qualified,kindly get back to me with your rates and location hopefully an arrangement can be duly made then.
Regards,
Mr. Derick Bentley

Here's another one sent to another coach:

Hi there,
I send you Compliments and greetings? Hope you having a great week?
Anyway I and my wife are looking to hire a  qualified coach for our child who is 14yrs old. What we wanted for our child is a just a general brush-up with training and in any areas our child might be have difficulties with. If you are available and qualified, kindly get back to me with your rates and your location and hopefully an arrangement can be duly made then.
Have a nice day.
Regards,
Mr. Derick Bentley

I got tired of the idiot and responded with this:

How long are you going to do this scam? Every email you send to U.S. coaches is being turned over to the FBI. We know the scam - you insist on paying in advance, you overpay, and then you ask for a refund. The coach sends you the difference, then your fake check bounces. Oh, and then you go to jail.
-Larry

Only Sort-of-Table-Tennis-Related Tongue-Twister

Yesterday at the club I heard one of the kids mention something about his backpack. It got me thinking - what if you say it backwards, packback? Better still say it both ways: "Backpack Packback"? Then I realized how hard it is to say that, and I realized I'd invented the most difficult tongue-twister ever developed. (That's my position and I'm sticking with it.) So I challenged the kids to say it five times fast, and pretty soon the room was full with the attempts. I don't think anyone was successful unless they slowed down dramatically. Try it - just say "Backpack Packback" five times fast, and do so without reading it off the page (which seems to make it easier). If you can do that, you have outdone the MDTTC juniors. (Disclaimer - our top four juniors weren't there, with three of them off to the U.S. Team Trials. So you are only up against the MDTTC Junior "B" Team!)

Sic 'em!

Here's a picture of someone holding back the table tennis dog that we're going to sic on that table tennis scammer above. 

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February 26, 2014

Vision

I've previously blogged about some of the below, but I'm going to rehash some of it here so as to get to the point about vision.

Way back in December, 2006, I made a proposal to the USATT board for them to get involved in developing training centers and junior programs. The plan basically involved them recruiting and training coaches to set up these centers and programs. They'd use their web page and regular mailings to get prospective coaches into coaching seminars that USATT was already running. The seminars would cover not only how to coach, but the professional side as well - how to get students, set up and run programs, etc., with a major emphasis on developing full-time coaches who would set up full-time training centers and junior programs. I even wrote the manual for the program, which I've since had published, "Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook."

I ended the proposal by asking the USATT board what their vision was for table tennis in America, and gave them mine:

"Hundreds of professional clubs with coaches, junior training programs, classes, and leagues; thousands of recreational clubs with leagues or training programs; and hundreds of thousands playing in leagues or training programs."

At the time there were only about ten full-time centers in the U.S., and about that many serious junior programs. When I finished my proposal, thirteen board members looked back at me with seemingly little interest. Two of them spoke up, saying there weren't enough table tennis players in the U.S. to support training centers except in a few unique areas. I stared back in absolute disbelief. I was so disgusted that I told several people that very night I was resigning my position as editor of USATT Magazine, co-webmaster, and program director, which I officially did one month later.

That was just over seven years ago. Without USATT's involvement, there are now nearly 70 full-time training centers in the U.S., and nearly every one of them has a serious junior program. It happened because many others saw what I saw - there would be a demand for such centers, and where there's a demand, entrepreneurs step in. In this case, lots of table tennis coaches and top players filled the demand. The two board members were correct that there "weren't enough table tennis players in the U.S. to support training centers." What they and others without vision did not see is that you create this demand. With USATT's support, who knows how many more we would have.

Some would say we're better off without USATT getting involved, but as one who's out in the trenches, who's actually set up full-time centers and helps others doing so, I guarantee the lack of any national leadership is perhaps the biggest handicap here. Everyone who opens such a center has to practically re-invent the wheel. Other sports recruit and train coaches and promoters to do these things; we rely on them figuring it out on their own. There should be a partnership between USATT and those trying to set up such centers and junior programs, since both should have the same goals.

The result of all these new junior programs has been staggering. The level of play in the U.S. at the cadet and junior level is so far ahead of where it was just seven years ago it's not even comparable. Two years ago I blogged about this, and gave a comparison of the top juniors in 2011 to those in 2006, and it wasn't even close. In the last two years, the level has dramatically gone up again. Kids who are now battling to compete with the best of their age would often be the dominating #1 player just seven years ago. The top ten players in every age group are now doing things that at most one player their age might have been doing seven years ago. We have multiple 12-year-olds who could have been the U.S. Under 18 Champion in many past years.

Since USATT still has no interest in helping out in the recruiting and training of the coaches and promoters to set up training centers and junior programs, and also have shown no interest in setting up any sort of nationwide network of regional leagues, they either have some other vision, or no vision. Which is it?

While the staff does the day-to-day running of the sport, the board, with help from committees, sets policy. You can't set effective policy until you know where you are trying to go. Those who don't understand this do not have the vision needed to lead our sport to prosperity.

So here's my question to all USATT board members, as well as committee chairs and members, staff, and anyone else involved in the development of table tennis in the U.S.  Think this over, take your time, and give a serious answer.

What is your vision for table tennis in the U.S.?

USATT Fundraising

In yesterday's blog I linked to the new minutes of two USATT board meetings and reports. I'll blog about them sometime soon. However, here's one really good thing that jumped out at me from the December meeting - the part about raising $5 million in four years in the amended motion #2. The good thing isn't about the proposed raising of $5 million. Here's the motion:

"MOVED to direct the CEO to develop a major fundraising plan that would raise $5,000,000 per quad, in addition to our current operations. The major concepts of the plan are to be presented to the Board at the Spring 2014 Board meeting."

It's good that they are trying to raise money, but there's nothing new about it. What jumps out is that they did one small, seemingly insignificant thing that USATT almost always forgets to do in the past - they put someone in charge of actually doing it - the USATT CEO. Voting to do something may make it look like something is being accomplished and may make the voters feel good about themselves, but it doesn't accomplish anything unless you put someone specifically in charge of actually getting it done. It's a lesson USATT should have learned long ago, but over and over has failed to do, and so rarely gets much done. (Anyone remember the People's Front of Judea in the movie "Life of Brian"? They kept voting to do hugely important things, then would adjourn without actually doing anything.) Perhaps this time it'll be different - I'm actually hopeful here, since I know raising funding is a top priority of board chair Mike Babuin, and now we have our CEO directly in charge of doing so. In the words of a famous captain, "Make it so!"

Crossword Puzzle

Late last night before going to bed I decided to do the crossword puzzle from that morning's Washington Post. Here was 62 across, eleven letters: "Olympic sport with the smallest ball." Let's see, what could that be? Spitballer? Peashooting? ProMarbling?

Poly Balls

Here's an article on the new poly balls, which are supposed to replace celluloid balls starting in July. The newer versions have apparently passed all eleven required laboratory tests. Will they pass the players' test? USATT has announced they will still use celluloid balls at the U.S. Open in July (they had already ordered the balls), but after that we'll see. I believe tournament directors will be able to choose which to use, but I'm not sure.

Richard McAfee's New Knee

Here's a picture of former USATT Coaching Chair and current ITTF roving coach Richard McAfee after having knee replacement surgery. He looks so comfortable, lying back and reading with all those tubes sticking out of him.

Westchester Open Singles Final

Here's the video (35:47), with Eugene Wang of Canada (U.S. Open Men's Singles Champion and North American #1 ranked player) defeating 16-year-old Kai Zhang, -11,10,3,8.

Crazy Rally

Here's an incredible rally (47 sec) posted this morning from the Swedish League.

Pong to the People

Here's the picture!

He's Having a Ball Playing Table Tennis

Here's the picture!

Headis - Soccer-style Table Tennis

Here's video (43 sec) of the fastest growing sport in America. While we're on the subject of soccer, here's video (5:11) of three members of the U.S. Soccer team playing table tennis (Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo, and Heath Pearce).

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January 6, 2014

Tip of the Week

Three Parts to a Swing.

New Seamless Plastic Poly Balls

I blogged about these on Dec. 26 (see second segment). There's been a lot of discussion online of these non-celluloid balls and how they'd change our sport. Here's my take.

First, a caveat. When I tested the newest poly ball at the Nationals, I was having arm problems at the time and so couldn't loop at full power, so perhaps my judgment on that is suspect. On the other hand, the top juniors who tried the ball out (four of them, all around 2300) thought it played pretty much the same as a regular ball. I wish I had a copy of the ball now so I could try it out again (with my arm mostly okay), along with others at my club. 

At least one other person has tested the ball and posted he believes the ball (even the newest version) has less spin and speed. I'm suspicious that it's substantially different. I know the ball was the same size as a Nittaku, and had the same speed when I bounced them side by side, and seemed substantially the same when I hit with it, including the same weight, grippiness, etc. Serious question: what physical property would cause it to have less spin, and in particular, substantially less spin? Comments are welcome below.  

But let's assume that the new ball does have less speed and spin, as some think. This might be true if, for example, the ball were bigger. (Though the slightly bigger ball I tested previously was actually faster than the current ball, though less spinny.)

If there is less spin with the new ball, I'm pretty sure that'll hurt choppers, even if the ball were slower. Choppers need spin to work with to mess up attackers, so even if they are more consistent with a slower ball, they would be less effective overall. (It'd sort of be like sandpaper matches, where it's easy to chop over and over, but hard to win points that way against the best sandpaper attackers.) However, if the ball were slower, that should help topspin defenders (fishers and lobbers). 

As to hitters, going from 38mm to 40mm balls hurt hitters, and going to a ball with even less speed would do the same - less ball speed gives loopers more time to loop, and hitters (and aggressive blockers) rely on rushing loopers into missing, making weak loops, or backing too much off the table. The same is true of blockers. Inverted and pips-out blockers need to rush loopers, and a slower ball makes that more difficult. Long pips blockers need spin to work with (like choppers), and a less spinny ball gives them less to work with - thereby putting them more at the mercy of smart but powerful loopers. Without those heavy backspin returns of loops, they'll have great difficulty messing loopers up.

The hard-to-call case is the modern defender, who chops and loops. A slower, less spinny ball would make their chops more consistent but less deceptive (and overall chopping alone would be less effective), but the slower ball would allow them to get into position to rip forehand winners. Most likely the change wouldn't affect their level, but it would tilt them toward more aggressive play. 

The surprising truth is that a ball with less spin and speed would likely favor powerful loopers who can still produce great spin and speed. I think it'd move the sport even more in the direction of pure looping, just as the increase from 38mm to 40mm did. It might favor all-out forehand loopers to a degree, since they will have more time to get into position for their powerful forehand loops. If you want to bring back choppers, blockers, and hitters, go back to a smaller, faster, spinnier ball. 

Addendum added later: with less spin and speed, these pure topspin rallies would likely be better than current ones as players relentlessly counterloop back and forth with fewer errors. Some will love this; some will find it repetitively boring. I'm on the fence here. I really miss the greater diversity of styles in the past. If you want to see the future, look at the juniors of today; overwhelmingly they are two-winged loopers, which is what I mostly coach and coach against. There are subtle differences, but in general they play much more similar to each other than players in the past. And yet, with a slower, less spinny ball the given topsin rallies would be better, and there'll fewer errors in returning serves, with the lower amount of spin. But I sure would like to see a bit more variation. 

Baltimore Sun

Yesterday the Baltimore Sun sent a reporter to Maryland Table Tennis Center to do a feature on Crystal Wang, 11, who recently became the youngest player ever to win Under 22 Women's Singles at the USA Nationals. (I'd sent out press releases everywhere afterwards. Here's a short article on this that was already in the Baltimore Sun - with two errors from the original press release, which were my fault: Crystal's actually a 6th grader now in the magnet program at Roberto Clemente Middle School.) The reporter spoke to Crystal and a number of players and coaches, and interviewed me for half an hour. I was able to give her lots of background, explain how she developed, and give details on her modern playing style (close to table looping from both wings).

$100,000 World Championships of Ping Pong

They just completed the third annual World Championships of Ping Pong, which is a sandpaper event - with $100,000 in prize money! Yes, you read that right. For the third year in a row it was won by Russia's Maxim Shmyrev, this time defeating USA's Ilija Lupulesku in the final at 8, 7, 12. (Strangely, games are to 15 in the sandpaper format.) Here's video of the final (24:04). Alas, both players are attacking all out - little chopping in this match.

2014 USA Team Trials

Here's info on the upcoming USA National Team Trials (Men's and Women's), to be held at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth Texas, March 7-9.

Message from ITTF President

Here's the end-of-the-year message from ITTF President Adham Sharara.

Ariel Hsing's Website

Here's the new website for our 18-year-old three-time USA Women's Singles Champion!

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Here's a review in the New York Times on the book "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" by Nicholas Griffin.

Search for Professional Players, Clubs, and Coaches Around the World

Here's a new website that does this. I haven't really tested it out yet, but it looks interesting.

ITTF Monthly Pongcast

Here's the December 2013 issue (11:44).

Chinese National Team in Training

Here's a video (3:31) of the Chinese National Team doing physical training and then table training. With Chinese narration.

Bernoulli's Ping Pong Ball Launcher

Here's the video (60 sec) - it's both table tennis and science!

Jean-Michel Saive vs. Chuang Chih-Yuan

Here are two videos of these two stars doing exhibitions. Tape one (1:35) and tape two (4:10).

Real or Fake?

If this is real (15 sec), then it might be the greatest table tennis trick shot ever.

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